As St Patrick’s Day comes around again, many towns and cities worldwide are preparing parades and festivals for Ireland’s most prominent patron saint. Whilst Boston and other American cities are famous for their celebration of Irish heritage, there are a few European cities that also like to put on a show for the saint. Naturally, Dublin is the focus of celebrations, but cities like Paris and Munich will also be going green on the 17th.
One of the reasons that St Patrick’s Day has become a more worldwide phenomenon might be because of mass emigration from Ireland over previous centuries. Political oppression, religious intolerance, and famines led many Irish people to look for lives elsewhere. Whilst a majority went West to America, many Irish people since the 17th century have travelled to mainland Europe and formed communities.
St Patrick’s Day is celebrated on the 17th of March, which is believed to be the day St Patrick died. Exactly when and where St Patrick was born are not clear, but it was likely towards the end of the Roman empire in the 5th century in England somewhere. His connection to Ireland started when he was captured in Britain by pirates who then sold him as a slave in Ireland. During this time his faith in God grew, leading him to escape back to England and then France. There he was ordained as a bishop.
He then returned to Ireland to spread the word of Christianity. His knowledge of Ireland from his years as a slave were useful, and he was allowed to preach across the country. According to legend, he performed miracles that even convinced Ireland’s pagan kings.
One story says that St Patrick used shamrocks to explain the holy trinity of Christianity while preaching. Experts are unsure whether this really happened, but the shamrock has become an icon of St Patrick’s Day festivals nowadays. If you’re lucky, you might even find one in dropped in your beer.
Dublin: St Patrick’s Day parade returns to the city
The heart of St Patrick’s Day (or Lá Fhéile Pádraig as its known locally), is of course, in Ireland’s capital city Dublin.
After two years of pandemic restrictions, the St Patrick’s Day festivities in Dublin will be making an impressive return. The parade route winds through the city, and will be visible from the GPO Museum, Dublin’s cathedrals, and the castle. Concerts, music events, and many other celebrations are planned throughout the city and the festival quarter.
Guinness have opened a micro-museum for the celebrations. Visitors can learn about how Ireland’s most famous beer was developed, brewed, and marketed. They promise to even ‘print’ pictures of visitors onto the foam on their beer.
The main symbol of this year’s festival in Dublin is a colourful snake. It is a popular folklore that St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, which explains why you’ll see parade floats styled like massive snakes at the parade. However, Ireland’s unsuitable climate and lack of habitat is more likely why you won’t find any real snakes in the Dublin today.
Munich: where an Irish lady stole a King’s heart
Munich is one of the few places in Germany that holds a large celebration for St Patrick’s Day. However, a different Irish person made a much larger mark on the Bavarian capital: Lola Montez.
Elizabeth Rosanna Gilbert was born in 1821 in Grange, County Sligo. However, she spent her childhood between England, Scotland, and India.
After her first marriage at age 19 failed, she debuted as a Spanish dancer in London under the name ‘Lola Montez’. This proved scandalous, and she decided to travel to mainland Europe, pretending to be Spanish.
During her time in Europe, it was rumoured that she had affairs with many men, including Franz Liszt and Alexander Dumas. However, Bavaria was where she left a lasting impression.
There, Lola danced in the court of King Ludwig I, who adored her so much so that he gave her a castle and a title. As his mistress, Lola influenced much of the King’s policies, which made her very unpopular with the citizens.
In just two years, the Bavarian people started to rebel. Lola refused to step away from politics, but was forced to flee Munich in 1848. King Ludwig abdicated the throne the same year due to the scandals.
If you visit Munich today, remember that the Bavaria’s history was changed forever by a single Irish dancer. You can even rent the so-called ‘Lola Montez’ house out for parties and events.
Unfortunately, Munich’s St Patrick’s Day festival will be celebrated online this year due to the pandemic.
Paris: scholarly connections to the Emerald Isle
Links between Ireland and France stretch back at least 500 years, as many Irish people came to France to escape religious trouble at home. The church also wanted the clergy to become more educated, and so many priests went to European universities. Irish colleges were established in many cities across the continent, including Paris. Students were often encouraged to become ordained, so that they could earn money preaching.
The Irish College in Paris was founded in the 16th century. It offered Roman Catholic education to Irish people, and survived many periods of turmoil and war. Nowadays, it is known as the Centre Culturel Irlandais (Irish Cultural Centre). It is still a focal point for Irish Christians in France, but is also used for exhibitions and events. Scholars and students from Ireland are also welcomed to stay.
The Centre Culturel Irlandais will host a series of concerts to mark the occasion this year. There are also many Irish pubs in Paris too, for those who want to celebrate the occasion with a drink.
Keep an eye out in your local area for any celebrations, and be sure to wear something green: otherwise you might be pinched by a leprechaun!